Minnesota Wild v Vancouver Canucks

Just so I’m not solely giving defenders hell, I should be fair: Mason Raymond’s toe pull doesn’t just mesmerize one of the Wild’s defenders (possibly two), it also puts him in a great position to make an offensive play. So, y’know, kudos for that.

As Systems Analyst posts commonly are, today is about identifying your guy in the d-zone, and simply taking care of your responsibility. One of the hardest habits to break in kids learning to play hockey is “puck-staring,” and it still happens at the highest level.

Let’s take a look at a great shift by Mason Raymond, a great passing play by the Canucks, and a nice finish by Jannik Hansen…even though he’s Danish (HAHAHA get it, finish, like…I’ll see myself out). Oh, and most importantly, we’ll look at how this goal could’ve been prevented by the Wild.

The goal develops from a won battle by the Canucks in the corner.

In general in a two-on-two situation like this, coaches would like to see “layers” from their defenders. As in, one defender fully engaged in the battle, with the second defender engaged, but playing off the pile a bit, or “softer.” That way there’s no risk of getting picked, and if the first guy loses the battle, at least you have another “layer.”

Anyway, right now four men are engaged in the corner.

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How this scrum was taken on doesn’t matter all that much initially – Raymond simply wins the puck battle with some hard work, and takes the puck up the wall after digging it out. We’d be able to see the puck, but y’know, there’s a walkie-talkie in the way. Pretty standard stuff.

Right now this is still a comfortable, contained defensive situation. “Keep that puck on the paint,” as in, to the outside, and your coach will be happy.

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Sorry for the busy screenshot, but it’s good to get everyone identified right off the hop. F1 down low, Clutterbuck, has Jordan Schroeder. Gilbert is on Raymond. Cullen is watching his point man, and Brodziak is eyeing his guy while hanging out in the slot, as he should be (you can always move up and towards your d-man, and don’t want to leave open ice in the middle). And Stoner, the d-man left in front, should have the Canucks F3, Hansen, at least identified as the uncovered man.

As Raymond moves up the wall, Cullen has a decision to make. Yes, strong-side (puck-side) winger, your job is to watch your point. However, you do not exist solely to stand somewhere in front of your d-man – you’re there to defend. So your responsibility is also to cut off someone trying to head to the middle slot area, given that you’d rather they pass the puck to the point and shoot from there then let a guy take the puck down broadway. Here’s Cullen trying to do that:

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He taking away the pass to the point, but also not giving Raymond a ton of room to cut to the middle (if he were father towards the middle he’d be better off, given he’d be in the d-man’s shooting lane as well if the pass got through). Maybe he gives Raymond a bit too much room, as we’ll see momentarily, but positionally and mentally, he’s seems to be doing the right things. At the very least, he’s aware of his role here.

Then, if I may quote Chris Berman….WOOP!

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Sometimes you just get beat by a nice move.

Raymond makes a nasssty, long toe drag. By the way: this is literally the type of play that will get you benched if it doesn’t work. He’s heading up to the danger zone (near the blue line), has pressure, and there’s an easy cycle/back pass to be made to Hansen, who will have time and space. Vigneault would flip if this doesn’t work, but it does, so…what can you really say?

So he goes “WOOP” on Cullen, and still has Gilbert on his back, which frankly, Gilbert is fine with. He’s keeping him at a good distance from the net, he’s in no position to shoot, he just has to trust that his teammates aren’t mesmerized by the—oh god they are aren’t they?

Oh, they are Tom. Kyle Brodziak hasn’t shoulder-checked a single time to see if Keith Ballard is still directly above him, let alone still on the ice. He’s too busy doing the And1 towel spin and yelling “Ay-yo! Ay-yo!” to remember his defensive responsibilities.

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And now look at that swath of ice ahead of Ballard, who has good offensive hockey sense. It’s massive. It’s essentially the size of the farm your parents told you your dog went to roam free on forever after he died. It is a dreamscape.

So Brodziak is dead in the water, and Stoner, whether he’s identified Hansen or not (I kinda feel like “not” is the answer here) has been hung out to dry by his puck-staring winger. What should he do? Go hang on to Hansen and give Ballard a breakaway? Not so much. Outside of playing it like a 2-on-1, which would’ve taken extraordinary defensive vision to do, he basically has to go pressure Ballard and hope someone else gets back.

The dish gets made…

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And Stoner goes to challenge.

The only issue here, now, is that the Wild are totally screwed. Three guys were dragged out high, Ballard has been allowed to sneak in – and by sneak in, I mean waltz in while wearing a top hat and cane while singing the Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces” – the defense are spread out and the forwards have time and space.  Clutterbuck and Schroeder, by the way, are both continuing to do the right thing – Shroeder headed to the net, Clutterbuck is staying with him (which is too bad, because I would’ve loved to label his play a “clusterbuck”).

The Ballard sees Hansen.

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Ballard makes what looks like an easy pass, but I’m pretty sure he went wickets on Stoner…

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And that’s All

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She

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Wrote

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Nice shot, geez.

Minnesota Wild v Vancouver Canucks

That’s Darcy Kuemper’s “Wow, who done shot that?” face.

It’s amazing how one player’s drifty, dreamy d-zone play can handcuff everyone else.

The Canucks made a couple nice offensive plays – a won puck battle, a nice toe-drag, a nice pass and a great finish – but none of it happens, talented plays aside, if Brodziak is simply aware of where the guy he’s covering is, instead of being aware of where he’s “sort of supposed to be standing.”

Wingers tend to think they defend a general area, but that’s not true – you defend your opponent, and that “area” is just supposed to provide you with a good starting place.